The US Senate launched a floor debate on major postal reform proposals today, looking into how to help the US Postal Service out of its current financial crisis.
The cloture motion was passed today by 74 votes to 22, turning around last month’s vote against debating the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S.1789).
Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is leading the reform measure as the Senate government affairs committee chairman, described the result today as a “very strong vote” that suggested that members of the Senate across party lines understood the importance of the Postal Service and the need to avoid its bankruptcy.
Lieberman said with a 30-hour debate on the bill, there would be an opportunity to hear amendments from around the Senate.
The Independent Senator said compromise was going to be key to passing the legislation.
“In a representative body like the Senate, representing a country as big and diverse as ours, you rarely can expect to get 100% of what you want. The aim should be to make progress, to get at least 50% of what you want, and to let the other side to get some of what they want as well.”
The debate in the Senate looks set to hear between those Senators urging a complete overhaul of the Postal Service to cope with declining mail volumes and reduce excess processing capacity, and those looking to protect jobs, safeguard mail service standards and prevent the closure of postal facilities.
Senator Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine who has been particularly critical of widespread mail plant and rural post office closures, said of the bill today: “As with any bipartisan compromise, this is not the bill that each of us alone would have crafted. But we came together because our goal of saving the Postal Service is so important.”
“The 21st Century Postal Service Act provides the right tools to the Postal Service, with the right checks and balances to set it back on course.”
The core components of bill S.1789 seek to reform USPS payment obligations for its pension, healthcare and workers’ compensation systems in order to dramatically reduce USPS operating costs, while also finding ways to cut operational expenses and raise new revenues.
Among service changes, the bill would modify requirements allowing USPS to cut costs by delivering mail to on-street or centralised mailboxes where feasible, in order to cut delivery costs. But, the proposals would delay any move to eliminate Saturday deliveries for two years, until other measures have been taken to cut USPS operating costs.
Though many Congressmen are opposing facility closures, S.1789 would look to add controls to the closure process, rather than preventing closures. Lieberman said today he expected the bill to allow the number of both USPS employees and facilities to “dramatically” reduce.
Another strand of the bill would allow USPS to provide more products and services than it currently offers in order to generate more revenue to offset the more than $14bn annual losses being seen at the Postal Service.
Since S.1789 passed out of committee last autumn, losses at the Postal Service have appeared to worsen, while the ongoing review process of possible postal facility closures has seen growing calls from Congressmen to stop the radical downsizing of the USPS network and its mail service standards.
As a result, leading postal reform proponents within the Senate have added an amendment looking to tackle the opposition to the bill. A number of amendments developed by other Senators are also expected to come forward during the floor debate.
The “Manager’s Amendment” as filed in Congress yesterday, would essentially add more requirements on USPS in downsizing its operations and strengthen language on “aggressively” pursuing new ways to raise additional revenues.
In particular, the amendment would demand any cost-cutting at USPS be “responsible”, avoiding changes that do more harm than good to the bottom line. The USPS plan to turn First Class Mail services from a mostly-overnight service to a mostly two-to-three day service could be partially reversed by the amendment.
The amendment would require more of a say for local communities in whether their post office should be closed, require USPS to offer alternative arrangements for closing post offices, and strengthen language relating to the appeals process.
Lieberman said today the bill would make USPS “leaner, nimbler and more cost efficient, while still maintaining the service Americans need to live our daily lives and keep our economy going”.
He said the bill by itself would not do enough to save the Postal Service. But he said: “It will represent a very significant step forward, it will save the Postal Service billions and billions of dollars annually and put the Postal Service back on the road to fiscal balance.”
The Senator from Connecticut said: “This bill is an important beginning, and will allow the Postal Service more time to continue working with its customers, employees, Congress and others to develop a balanced approach to what we need it to do in an age when almost every piece of communication that can be digitised is being digitised and sent over the Internet.”
If S.1789 does pass a vote from the full Senate, it would still require approval from the House of Representatives before being signed into law by President Obama’s signature. Unlike the Senate, the House is led by Republicans rather than Democrats, and also has its own postal reform bill to rival the Senate proposal.
Source: Post&Parcel/US Senate